How to Optimize Your School’s Technology Inventory Management

Effective inventory management saves time, money, and administrative headaches.

School administrators juggle a dizzying array of competing priorities. The last thing they want to spend their time doing is hunting down missing Chromebooks, unsystematically troubleshooting individual device issues, or fretting about a laptop inventory that’s nearly bare. It all takes too much time and, ultimately, money. 

An effective inventory management system can avoid these scenarios. First, it ensures each student, teacher, and staff member has a functional device whenever necessary, which, within the current educational landscape, is increasingly often, and second, it allows administrators to effectively monitor their school’s technology assets in a strategic, fiscally responsible manner, thereby allowing them to be more intentional in their technology decision-making processes. 

Your school’s device deployment strategy heavily influences its inventory management. 

In crafting a successful inventory management systems, begin by identifying your school’s existing deployment strategy. Deployment strategies typically fall into one of three broad categories, a 1:1 environment, in which specific devices are assigned to individual students; a lab environment, in which groups of students visit an area of the building that houses a set of number of devices, and finally, a cart or “gate” environment, in which devices travel between classrooms for student use as needed.

Each of these strategies necessitates specific accountability, repair, and loaner systems to support effective inventory management. Systems that account for device usage off campus, for example, are largely irrelevant to schools that utilize a lab environment. Similarly, a loaner policy for a first-year school may look vastly different than one for a more established school with the resources to purchase large numbers of extra devices. 

Accountability for devices lies with two main parties, students and teachers.

Regardless of a school’s deployment strategy, successful inventory management, at its core, depends on accountability, both for the students who actually use the school’s devices, as well as the teachers who monitor them

For example, if a student checks-out a Chromebook from their class and fails to return it, how will the school react? Some schools ask for a deposit from families at the beginning of the school year–even one as low as $50–with a sliding scale, depending on individual circumstances. Should a student fail to return a Chromebook, the school can keep the deposit and use the funds to offset the costs of the device replacement. 

The chance that a school may not recover 100% of such devices speaks to the inherent risk associated with allowing students to bring school devices home. But with distance learning, schools may have little choice but to do so, underscoring the need for a deposit-based or other kind of student accountability system.

For teachers in traditional, in-person settings, semi-weekly inventories of their classroom’s devices can be submitted via a Google Form to the school’s administrative or operations team, flagging any missing devices that need repairs or a full-on replacement. Here, conducting inventories at regular intervals is key, foreclosing the possibility of an obscenely large number of replacements or repairs at the end of a given school year. 

Identify and regularly update your “golden source” of inventory management.

Having accounted for any devices in need of repair or replacement, administrators should then identify and update their “golden source” of inventory management (i.e., the one place they can go, without fail, to access a comprehensive inventory of all devices within their building). 

If a school uses an external IT service provider, communication between the school’s golden source and whatever tracking system the provider uses is key: whenever an administrator makes an update to their school’s internal system, they should alert their IT provider to ensure the changes are captured across systems, reducing the chance of significant discrepancies when reconciliation occurs. 

Create and maintain an effective system for device repairs and loaners.

Of course, no matter how hard teachers and administrators try, stuff just breaks. They’re kids, after all, so a clear and consistent replacement and loaner strategy is needed to account for inevitable changes in device assignments. 

On this front, leaders ought to consider a number of factors. Where should students or teachers go to submit their repair or replacement requests by phone, email, or a chat feature? What kind of investigation do school administrators undertake, if any, to determine the validity of the student or staff member’s claim? Is there a limit on the number of times a student can expect a replacement if their device breaks over and over again? 

Answering these questions and, for more mature schools, maintaining a loaner pool of 10% of their total device count, can eliminate bottlenecks in the troubleshooting process and ultimately help re-deploy devices to teachers and students in a timely manner. 

At CTS, we help our clients optimize their inventory management strategies.

Our team works with more than 60 schools across the United States to optimize their inventory management systems. Regardless of your deployment strategy, CTS can help your school craft systems that support your school’s unique mission, saving you time, money, and logistical headaches in the process. Contact us today to learn more about creating an effective inventory management system for your student and staff devices. 

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